As soon as we boarded the 6:10 passenger train from Terespol, Poland to Brest, Belarus we had mixed emotions. Pulling out of Warsaw Central and leaving Europe, which we’d come to call home for so long, behind we realised we didn’t know when we’d be back. Yet as the sun rose so did our excitement as Belarus, one of the least visited countries in the world, was just over the horizon.
Approaching the border we instantly felt like we were on a time machine travelling back in time. The swaying train rattled over the border bridge and within moments we disembarked in a new country at a train station unmistakably from the Soviet era’s grandeur days. Brest train station, our first introduction to Belarus, is like those stations we found in the Ukraine six years previous with high ceilings, large waiting rooms with diamond studded wooden benches and journey information only in Cyrillic alphabet.
This is gonna take some getting used to
Belarus is supposedly more Soviet than Russia and as we made our way up over the pedestrian bridge into town we looked down over an endless sea of train carriages, most with smoke coming from the chimneys used for heating (or overheating!) the compartments. We’ve finally entered territory where the train is king and we’re looking forward to many an iron horse journey to come. There’s just something romantic about it.
As we take the direct route down pedestrianised Vulica Saveckaja we pop into Times Café for a good coffee and to make contact with the person to get the apartment keys. Our apartment is huge, plush and better than a hotel making our first night back on the road after six weeks in Warsaw a little too luxurious. Better not get used to this.
In the land of strange flavoured chips, Australia Bitter Beer and endless varieties of smoked fish we’re a little excited to finally be in Belarus, a country we’ve wanted to visit for many years so we head out to see what the action is like in town. Hearing that the Korova Bar and Grill has craft beer it’s a no brainer for us so we take the stairs up to the first floor and leave our jackets in the cloak room. Opening the door we realise we are two of only a dozen or so people in the place and it’s 20:30 at night. Handed the food menu the waitress think’s it strange we’re only here for the beer. We think to ourselves that for a Friday night this place is pretty dead.
“Let get one more and then head home”
Famous last words. Soon enough the place begins to fill with people. We end up making friend with a couple of local guys who approach us from the table next to us and within minute there’s a carafe of vodka planted on our table. There’s a beautiful woman with an enthralling voice belting out some cover songs over the microphone as the venue really beings to fill out. As more of our new acquaintances friends arrive the dance floor overflow whilst the DJ fills the speakers with some of the cheesiest classics out there.
Surprisingly (perhaps due to the purity of the vodka shots in these parts) we’re both able to function enough the next day to get out the door and down to the Brest Fortress, the main draw card for tourists to this town. Along the way though there’s the invitingly green Orthodox Church which draws us in for a look and allows us to take just one covert photo of the superb brightly painted interior.
The modern gate incorporates the old fortress walls with a bombed out section making its presence through the trees from were you pass under a huge formidable concrete Soviet style star structure which was sparked the initial interest for Belarus in Matt’s heart. Once outside we’re approached by a bunch of teenage girls asking for a photo with us, then asking where we’re from. Spying previously another group of people whispering to each other whilst looking in our direction they take cue from our friendly reaction and come straight over for their 15 minutes of weird looking tourist fame.
Passing through the gate we’re instantly transported back into the Soviet memorial ways familiar from the Ukraine as the typical patriotic music is intertwined with the sounds of battle coming from all angles. The gates give way to an open space that has still more ginormous monuments. The ‘Thirst’ monument shows an injured solider crawling to the river for water, a huge bayonet obelisk in the square guards the eternal flame as three tombstones lead to the 33.5 metre high ‘Courage’ monument.
Of the 850 fortress defenders who fought here when the Germans attacked only 216 are known. Hang a left and you reach the Kholmsky Gate. Sitting in its original bullet ridden state it gives you a sense of the bombardment the fortress took in 1941. With hangover hunger kicking in we walked through the 1st of May Park to a cafe located in the centre for some traditional cheese covered potato chips and a very nice pizza indeed (the price not so nice).
Also in Brest is the largest Cathedral in Belarus, that of the Holy Resurrection. Leaving that next morning we rose before dawn in order to capture the building as the sun also began its shift of the day. 48 hours was enough time Brest to get a good mixture of culture, history, drinking and meeting the locals.
For more great pics of Belarus check out our Flickrpage and if you have any questions feel free to post them below.
For more information about how we acquired our Belorussian visas in Warsaw and travelled from Warsaw to Brest in one day, including border formalities, click here.
Tips for Brest
- Learn a little of the Russian alphabet. Even a few key letters will help you decipher signs and get by.
- You can get great deals on Booking.com, especially if they have Genius status. We stayed at Irina Apartment for USD$20 a night and can’t recommend it highly enough.
- The Korova Bar + Grill seemed to be where it’s at. Live singing, craft beer, cheap vodka, bar food, hot girls, cool guys and a very friendly vibe.
- Try and catch the Lamplighter who lights the kerosene street lamps each night since 2009 to bring back a bit of the olden days. You’ll find him on the pedestrianised vulica Saveckaja at dusk each night.
- Went entering some of the churches women will need to be wearing a head scarf and/or long skirt. Don’t fret if you’re not as there is generally a box of them by the door for you heathens of modesty.